One of the more surprising stories of 2021 has to be the resilience of the box office in the face of the summer Delta surge. SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS, F9, BLACK WIDOW all had huge openings while Covid cases were rising. FREE GUY, another huge success story, spent seven weeks in the top three at the box office.
Clearly, though, the strongest indicator of the health of theatrical is VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE. The first VENOM broke the record for the largest October opening when it debuted to $80M in 2018. Given that critics didn’t love the first one and didn’t hold very well after opening weekend, the smart money was on CARNAGE opening to less than VENOM. And yet, in the face of a pandemic, CARNAGE roped in $96M.
The enormous opening for CARNAGE on the heels of solid peak-surge openings should leave no doubt that theatrical is back. Furthermore, it looks like audiences have found a way to go to the theater in the face of a pandemic. With forecasts for Covid cases on the decline combined without our growing ability to coexist with theater-going during a surge, could it be that 2022 will return to something resembling the pre-pandemic movie business?
One side effect of the entire pandemic has to be shorter, more nimble marketing campaigns. Studios can’t be blamed for not releasing trailers or other marketing material with the specter of the pandemic necessitating a date change. But the recent stability at the box office should reduce the frequency of those questions. Studios should feel more confident that pandemic-related changes won’t be necessary in light of what happened this summer.
This may manifest itself in more traditional long-lead campaigns. The roll-out of campaigns may look more like they did pre-pandemic.
We will get our first indicator if that’s the case in the next week or two. It’s usually in early October when we get trailers for the crop of upcoming January films.
Looking at the six wide releases from January 2019, two – SERENITY and GLASS – had a trailer come out well in advance of their release. The other four had spots dropped the previous October, including the smash hit THE UPSIDE. The trailer for that film debuted on October 3rd.
Looking forward to this January, four high-profile films remain trailer-less: SESAME STREET, THE MAN FROM TORONTO, MORBIUS, and SCREAM. If we start to see the campaigns ramp up for these film in the next few weeks, that could be a strong sign that the studios are feeling more confident about the stability of the release calendar and the overall health of the box office.